Democratic Republic of Congo – Profile Part 3

In November, while still under house arrest, Lumumba made an attempt to reach Stanleyville where his support was. On December 1, he was captured in Kasai and in January he was sent to Elisabethville where he was tortured and killed at the insistence of Belgian advisors. It was not until 2001 that the intricate details of his murder were made public following a Belgian parliamentary inquest. It disclosed the gruesome way in which a man whose sole intention was to establish a peaceful democratic country was beaten and forced to eat copies of his speeches, placed in front of a firing squad and shot. His body was cut up, buried, dug up again and the remains were dissolved in acid; a truly horrific and gross treatment for a man trying to usher in a new era of peace and stability to a country in such dire need.

In the aftermath of Patrice Lumumba’s death, the UN Security Council enacted resolution 161; a measure hoped to prevent the Congo falling into a disastrous civil war. Resolution 161 allowed all appropriate action to be taken to prevent such an incident including the use of force, if necessary, as a last resort. In the aftermath of Lumumba’s death, a number of conferences were held in order to try and unite the country and resolve the constitutional crisis. One of the main aspects of these conferences was to bring Katanga back under central control. This did not work as it was clear soon after that Tshombe had no intention of fulfilling his promise. As a result of Tshombe’s broken promise the UN launched “Operation Rumpunch” which proved initially successful in disarming Katangese troops. It came to a halt when the Belgian Consul in Elizabethville convinced local UN troops that he would complete the operation. This turned out to be a lie.

When the UN realised that they had been duped by the Belgian consul they launched “Operation Morthor” in September 1961. This time however the UN command had been issued with arrest warrants for Tshombe and other Katangese political figures. These warrants had been issued by the newly elected Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula who was internationally recognised unlike other political figures who claimed the same role. “Operation Morther” quickly became a calamity as the Katangese forces appeared to be forewarned about the UN’s intentions. Tshombe was arrested but succeeded in escaping to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia (now known as Zambia). During this operation a UN company consisting of 155 Irish troops was attacked and trapped in Jadotville. In the course of this attack they were subjected to strafing from a Fouga Magister which was flown by a Belgian mercenary with the intention of cutting off their supply route. The Irish company held out for 6 days without any supplementary supplies eventually surrendering owing to diminishing levels of water and ammunition. As a result of this shambolic attempt by UN troops, a cease fire was reached but on very poor terms for the UN. It saw public buildings and military posts handed back to Katangese forces. The Irish company was held in custody for another month until a prisoner swap was agreed on 25 October; it also saw Tshombe return to Elizabethville.


Further UN skirmishes ensued and on 8 November 1961 a group of Irish troops were ambushed and killed by Baluba tribesmen, in Niemba. On November 24, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 169 which “Authorizes the Secretary-General to take vigorous action, including the use of the requisite measure of force, if necessary, for the immediate apprehension, detention pending legal action and/or deportation of all foreign military and paramilitary personnel and political advisers not under the United Nations Command, and mercenaries”.

After heavy fighting and losses on both sides the UN’s objectives were eventually achieved. The Katangese forces had been effectively neutralised. Tshombe agreed to peace talks; discussion lasted a year with no progress made. December 1961 also saw Congolese forces re-capture South Kasai which ended its secession.

Antoine Gizenga – who had remained as head of the Eastern Oreintale province – agreed to join the central government after talks with Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula. Gizenga was led to believe that the central government would follow the policies of recently murdered Patrice Lumumba. Subsequently negotiations broke down and by mid-January 1962. Gizenga was arrested. Katanga remained under the control of Tshombe and talks took place to discuss the possibility of Katanga becoming an autonomous region in a federal state. These talks proved purposeless leading to the implementation of ‘Operation Grand Slam’ in December 1962; the plan targeted Katanga’s political and military infrastructure, this proved decisive and by 1963 Elizabethville was under the control of UN forces.

This was not the end of civil unrest. In 1964, a new rebellion broke out involving rebels who called themselves Simba (translated from Swahili as ‘Lion’). This rebellion was led by Pierre Mulele, Cristophe Gbenye and Gaston Soimialot who were all members of Antoinne Gizenga’s Parti Solidaire Africain. They were Maoists, specifically Mulele, and as a result the rebellion was supported by the Chinese. The rebellion initially affected the Kivu and Eastern Orientale provinces and by August it had extended to Stanleyville; as the rebellion grew stronger accounts of violence and acts of terrorism were widespread. Thousands of Congolese were executed mainly those from opposing political parties and people whom the rebels believed had been westernized. July of 1964 saw Moise Tshombe elected as the new Prime Minister of the new national government. He vowed to end the rebellion.

The Leopoldville government were backed by and aided by Western nations, most notably Belgium and the USA. With the aid of western countries the rebels were soon on the back foot and by August they began to take local white populations hostage. These hostages were kept under guard in the Victoria Hotel in Stanleyville, this tactic was seen as a bargaining measure in the now likelihood of their defeat. As the number of hostages continued to increase the Congolese government turned to the USA and Belgium for help. A rescue plan was adopted; on 24 November 1964 the US Air-Force dropped 350 Belgian paratroopers over Stanleyville. Once the paratroopers landed they quickly secured an airfield and made their way to the Victoria Hotel. Around 60 hostages lost their lives in the rescue mission but the Belgian paratroopers managed to safely evacuate in excess of 2000 hostages, over a two day period. Stanleyville was soon captured and by the end of the year the rebellion was over.

Moise Tshombe’s reputation was weakened following the international intervention. The observed success of the operation was hindered domestically because the intervention was undertaken by western and white services. Consequently, Tshombe lost the backing of Joseph Kasavubu and Joseph Mobutu.


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